If you type your brand name into Google Search right now, what do you see?
When someone is searching for your brand, you want your content to dominate the search results page (SERP).
Today, the results yielded from a branded search look different than when digital marketers like me started optimizing.
Consider the landscape of organic results possible on a search page now — they include local results, video results, image results, news results, and more.
Does your brand own all possible real estate available?
Read on to learn about these opportunities and see how to optimize for branded organic search traffic.
True to the phrase, a branded search occurs when someone types a brand’s name into a search engine. Marketers for that brand hope the intent behind this action is one of genuine interest from a potential or existing customer.
However, there are many other reasons why a person may search for a brand. Competitors, potential investors, or candidates looking for new career opportunities may all perform branded searches, as well.
When someone is searching for your brand, you hope that they spell your brand name correctly. If they don’t, you can easily lose that traffic.
There isn’t a great way to gather that traffic organically, but adding misspellings to a branded PPC search campaign can help.
Other mishaps occur when people are searching for a brand whose name is the same as another, or even a simile.
Indeed, many brands have similar names. Consider the competition for branded organic search results around the term blue ocean, as shown below.
Both Blue Ocean Contact Centers and Blue Ocean Strategy are competing for this term (which is likely being searched by many people also hoping to see our Earth’s magnificent blue ocean in the literal sense).
Meanwhile, the battle continues in other types of organic search results pages:
This happens millions of times a day with brand names that are similar to one another, and to other things.
In the era of digital marketing, brands should rethink creating a company with the same name as another brand or object, if possible.
Branded search confusion also occurs when a company’s audience doesn’t fully understand what the brand’s name is.
For example, the following queries report from Google Search Console shows that this audience is confused about which version of the brand’s name is correct:
Marketers should be focusing on brand awareness campaigns to combat brand misuse in the marketplace. Educating your audience about your presence with consistent brand name usage will encourage adoption and accuracy.
Build brand name use standards into your voice/tone, and editorial guidelines to ensure all employees are following suit and contributing to proper brand name usage in the market.
It’s worth a callback to the screenshot above extracted from Google Search Console.
Marketers can measure the impact of their efforts in their Search Terms report inside the console. And hopefully, over time, accurate branded searches will increase.
However, as that’s happening marketers need to focus on what they can control, including optimizing for all placements within a branded search result.
Optimizing for all the search engine results possibilities requires a lot of resources, and ultimately trying to appear everywhere won’t make sense for all brands.
While marketers typically want their website to appear in the first organic position when someone is typing in their brand name (right under a branded ad campaign), not all brands will be able to claim local results, news results, etc.
For example, an online-only ecommerce company that relies on drop shipping simply isn’t eligible for Google My Business local results because it doesn’t have a physical address.
Similarly, news results will only be accessible to brands that are getting mentions in news publications.
Different techniques are required to optimize for the various sections of search engine results today. And with limited resources, marketers have to be careful not to spread themselves too thin.
Standard search listings, also known as “blue link” listings are the results that have appeared under the search bar since search engines began.
Typically, brands will optimize their websites using onsite and offsite SEO techniques, trying to get their website to appear near the first organic position.
They often target branded keywords on the home page of their website by including the brand name first on the homepage title tag (the home page can also be optimized for another non-branded term).
On other pages, the brand name can still be used in the title tag, but after a pipe bar where the leading keyword for that page comes first.
This ensures that the brand name is still being associated with other pages of the website. It also means that if any part of the page title is cut off in the SERP it’s the brand name, which is arguably less critical on other pages.
Regardless, this increases the chances of other pages of your website also showing up for branded searches.
In the same vein, a person may search for a brand’s name followed by the word “platform,” “pricing,” or “services.” These are longer-tail forms of a branded search that are targeting more specific information about the company.
Marketers typically create other content pages, like a pricing page on their website, to address these types of queries.
Site links can help a brand build out the initial branded result and get searchers to particular website pages faster.
It’s possible that as your brand grows, that it gathers branded stories from other high-authority websites.
When someone searches for your brand these results may show up as well. Ideally, these stories would appear below your website in the search results, and they would cast a positive light on your brand.
If that’s not the case, marketers can do outreach to qualified websites, or work with an experienced PR firm to develop new branded stories to help them build out additional results when someone searches for them.
B2B SaaS companies can consider trying to build a positive presence on software review sites like G2 or Trust Pilot.
Restaurants, on the other hand, will rely on reviews from sites like TripAdvisor and social media pages:
A brand’s social media pages will typically help them occupy more space on a branded search, as well.
Actual Twitter card results will show up alongside Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages, and more.
Businesses with a local presence have the option to also occupy the right side of the search results page. Local businesses need to claim their Google My Business (GMB) account to optimize it.
As a business owner, you’ll be asked to verify your physical location during this process. Once your page is verified you can optimize it by adding correct business information like your hours, services, address, and more.
Images can be added by the business, and also by customers who visit your business.
Customers can also leave a review on your GMB page, and these will show up in search results (so make sure to always leave a good impression on customers!).
Read more about optimizing GMB listings here.
Travel, restaurant, and hotel companies will also want to get their results into local packs that allow searchers to make reservations by price, stars, and other filters directly from the SERP.
Brands with a YouTube channel can have their videos appear at the top of search engine results pages and in the video results tab for related queries.
Typically, if the channel’s name includes the brand name, top-performing videos will appear in video results for that brand.
Optimize videos for branded searches by including your brand name in the video title and in the description, and pair that with a compelling story to buy from you.
If you have a branded demo video, even better.
Marketers can have images that represent their brand appear in organic image results. Like video results, optimizing for branded image results requires marketers to label images with the brand name.
For example, a company logo image can be uploaded online with an image title that says “[Company Name] Logo,” and it should have the same image file name and alt tag.
Branded images embedded in content, like a team photo on the about page, could be further optimized by using the brand name around the image in text and in headings or even the page title.
You can also optimize the image size and include a “human-readable” URL to improve image results.
The news results tab features stories published recently, typically by recognizable news outlets. Since 2019, it has become easier to appear in these types of results pages.
News results may also appear on page one of the standard search engine results in Top Stories:
Marketers can optimize for news results by following best SEO practices for as-it-happens content and leveraging structured data.
Google now pulls answers from websites directly into the search engine results pages, however controversial that may be to us marketers.
This presents additional opportunities for brands to appear in SERPs, although typically, a branded search with just the company name alone wouldn’t yield these types of results.
Enterprise brands are more likely to have an audience conducting branded queries and then snippets become a viable strategy. A featured snippet can appear for how, who, when, where, why, and what queries.
Cadbury will want to own a featured snippet for when someone is searching [how does Caramilk get the Caramilk in the Caramilk bar], for example.
Same thing for IBM when someone searches [when did IBM start].
To optimize for these types of queries, do some keyword research in Google’s keyword tool using your brand name. Combine this with results from an Answer the Public search around the brand.
You can also do some searching in Google around your brand to see which questions it suggests:
Finally, combine this with any question-related in-site searches from your Analytics, or even customer service logs.
Once you have a list of all questions that people tend to ask about your brand, you can prioritize which ones to answer first based on which have the highest search volume or appear most frequently.
Create an FAQ section on your website or even a short blog post to answer these queries.
If you’re choosing to answer top branded questions with blog content, include the query in the page title if possible, and include HTML headings hierarchically on the page content.
People with a personal brand will want to appear in the upper right corner knowledge graph results when others search their name.
These results are common for musicians, actors, and other types of celebrities:
The entity extractions behind Knowledge Graph results are complex. Wikipedia pages are thought to help determine what results reach this section of the SERP.
Depending on the purpose of the brand or person being marketed, creating content for the different types of snippets listed above may or may not make sense.
When someone searches Google for careers with your brand, you’ll want to make sure any open positions appear in the Google Jobs results section to surface opportunities for top candidates without delay.
Depending on how your company manages job listings, Google has instructions for how to get new company openings in their SERPs.
So how do SEO professionals make sure their brand is appearing in all parts of the SERP?
Understand the landscape and make content for all placements that make sense for your brand.
Put together a plan on how to improve your presence prioritizing areas where you’re furthest behind. After that, it’s all effort, patience, and agility.
Owning all areas of a branded search is a lot more effort than it used to be, and every type of organic search result takes time.
As marketers get better at owning the basic real estate of branded search pages, it’s important to keep a pulse on new opportunities. Search is constantly evolving and you do not want to get left behind!
All screenshots taken by author, May 2021